Review: Dave Chappelle riffs on family, fame and Paula Deen at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater
Dave Chappelle talks to you, never at you.
During the first of two sets at Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall Tuesday night, it was difficult not to feel like you were alone with him, in his living room, as he tried out new material. The conversational tone kept the diverse crowd engaged and rooting for him to finish strong throughout the performance. After all, Dave’s our friend. We just want the best for him.
That’s not to say Chappelle wasn’t funny. Actually, he was as hysterically funny as you remember him from stand up specials like Killin' Them Softly and his nearly three-season run on Comedy Central’s Chappelle's Show. But his biggest laughs emerged from the conversations he had with audience – the asides about his everyday life – more than the punchlines and running jokes.
More than in the past, Chappelle talked about his family, his wife and two school-aged sons, but he never made fun of them. When family is involved, Dad was always the butt of the joke -- the zany neighbor to his family’s straight man.
“I don’t discipline my kids… I just give them advice. But only when they ask for it. If you go around giving your advice all the time, they don’t care about it. I make them thirsty for the advice,” Dave explained. One such gem he shared with his son: a speech titled “Sometimes, it’s okay to quit.”
“If you follow my career at all you know how much I believe that,” he stated matter of factly as the audience roared.
The laughs were welcome. Some entered the hall with trepidation. At the gates, ticket takers were instructing people to leave their cell phones in the car. Printed signs warned against recording devices, cell phones, heckling, shouting out and talking during the set. The reiteration of the strict rules worried me. Was Chappelle still sensitive from the beginning of the tour, where he got a poor reception and worse reviews? Would he be defensive and unleash as soon as someone dared to interrupt his set? Everyone knows comedy shows are filled with liquored-up amateur funnymen who are dying to steal some attention. Is one person going to wreck this for everyone?
Fortunately, out of the gate, Chappelle addressed my concerns. He talked frankly about his rough experience at a summer show in Hartford, Conn., how he responded to it and the wave of criticism his response received. “You will never know how that feels. I got booed by 30,000 people. You’ll never know how it feels to hate 30,000 people at one time. I hated them,” he said. He compared the experience to having sex with a woman only to find out she was hiding a mouse trap in her lady parts.
Chappelle also didn’t shy away from topical humor, taking on Paula Deen with the grace and aplomb of a person who drops the N-bomb every time he draws breath. “I just wasn’t offended,” he shrugged. “She’s the lady on the Food Network… As long as she can cook, I don’t care what she says.”
The show motored along smoothly, but his most impressive feat was how he tied his jokes together, returning to the same punchlines several times without them seeming trite – even when they were predictable.
Donnell Rawlings, a.k.a Chappelle's Show's Ashy Larry, served as one of the shows two opening acts, and as always his brand of funny was complimentary to Chappelle’s. He even threw out a couple of punchlines that Chappelle carried over into his own set for the synergistic effect of two men who worked well together to make something special.
“I want to thank y’all for being some of the most loyal, most gangster fans in the world,” Rawlings shouted out to Chappelle's Show fans as he closed the set. As he exited the stage, the crowd got to its feet to see him off, partly in thanks for a funny 15 minutes but mostly for being a part of something special and coming to town to remind us all how special it really was.
-- Robbyn Mitchell, tbt*